Every Twenty Seconds? Really?

There is an urban legend, always attributed to various reputable scientific reports or institutions, that men have been “proven” to think about sex every seven minutes, or three minutes, or twenty seconds, or whatever number you first thought of. This is of course a methodological nonsense: what is meant by “men” here, are we including octogenarians or talking only about teenagers or prisoners; is there any way to tell other than self-reporting; and how are we defining the “sex” that is being thought about, anyway?

A clue to one possible reason for the popularity of the urban legend is afforded by the contrast with women, who are said – sometimes also invoking invented research – to think about sex only every couple of days. The implication here is that thinking about sex all the time is a Bad Thing, and shows that men are really just animals; the fact that women allegedly do not think about sex all the time shows that they are something more than just animals, that they are more evolved and “spiritual” and so on and so forth. In any cultural milieu where thinking about sex all the time was regarded as a Good Thing, however, women would immediately lay claim to this characteristic and loudly claim to think about sex more than men. In reality, as with all gender differences, the distance between the horny and less-horny members of each gender is much greater than that between the averages of the genders. Since this solid scientific truth cannot be used to grab for unjustified self-esteem or defame anyone, it is too boring to attract any adherents or become an urban legend.

That no one who peddles this myth ever seems to stop and ask what it actually means to be ‘thinking about sex’ is unconscionable. For if the sex that is being thought of is restricted to actual intercourse, it is indeed possible, though by no means certain, that most men might think of it more often than most women. But if a woman is washing her hair on a Saturday night and daydreaming about being rescued from a boring life by a knight on a white charger, so to speak, does this count as “thinking about sex”? And if we extend the definition to cover all courting behaviour, including self-adornment and other necessary preparations, then we must enter in the female account candlelight dinners, flowers, going to the hairdresser and the manicurist, shopping for clothes, application of cosmetics, reading of romances and beauty magazines, and every other form of sexual strategising. It will then be obvious that with such a definition, all women other than the very aged, harassed mothers, career women, nuns and nerds will be “thinking about sex” not every seven minutes or twenty seconds but every waking instant of their lives.

But wait a moment! If by “thinking about sex”, we mean anything to do with reproductive strategy, then childcare counts too, and anything that obtains or secures economic status also affects the reproductive calculus. That is even truer for men, so on the male side of the ledger we can enter all economic activity, absolutely without exception. Intellectual activity that purports to be disinterested must also count, since even radio astronomers need to make a living and get laid. So now we have everybody thinking about sex all the time. Okay, we have that settled, so can we all go home now?

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  1. Written by urban
    on September 4, 2011 at 19:56
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    Yes, let’s.

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